Part of the "make this cabinet to be as close to 'arcade quality' as possible" equation lies with the artwork. Good arcade artwork is a bit of a balancing act, because I wanted the artwork to be something eye-catching, but not something that beat you over the head (and burned your retinas) when you looked at it. There are two pieces of artwork on AP3: the control panel overlay ("CPO") and the marquee. I split them into two separate sections, since I blathered on a little too much to try to stuff everything into one section. :)
I wanted to have identifying labels for the buttons and joysticks on this control panel. A problem that a lot of people had when they first played on my previous cabinets was that they were looking at six buttons next to their joystick, and they didn't know what to do with them. So the first thing I wanted to do was to label the buttons "A" through "F". Doing this (theoretically) allows for people to figure out that in the huge majority of games Button A is probably the primary action button, Button B is the secondary action button, and so on. Plus, if someone needs to ask "How do I shoot in this game?", it's a lot easier to answer "Button A" than it is to answer "Top row, first button over from the left".
I also wanted to have secondary labels on some of the buttons for games that required very specialized button layouts. For example, Asteroids had a buttons-only control panel, and I figured I could replicate this pretty closely by spanning the controls across both sets (Player 1 and Player 2) of buttons. Defender and Stargate use a lot of buttons in their layouts too. The biggest potential problem with using some of these buttons in specialized layouts is that it could be difficult to remember (or even know in the first place!) what buttons did what, so I put secondary labels next to the buttons that needed them. I used a relatively small font size, so that you could see the labels if you needed to, but they won't distract you if you don't. This is an idea that I first saw on 1UP's Pac-Mamea cabinet, and it not only looked good, but it made a whole lotta sense to me too.
The identifying labels and the secondary labels are done thusly:
I used Larabiefont for all of the text on the control panel. I like it because it has kind of a "computerized" style to it without being cheesy, and it has a nice and crisp look to it.
Since I was going to have both 8-way and 4-joysticks on this control panel, I wanted to make sure that it was easy to differentiate between the two. I didn't necessarily want the joysticks to have "8-way joystick" and "4-way joystick" next to them, so I drew arrows coming out from the joysticks: 8 arrows for the 8-ways and 4 arrows for the 4-ways.
Aside from wanting the buttons and joysticks to be labeled on this control panel, I needed to have a snappy piece of artwork behind it all. After poking around the web for a bit, I found some pretty cool pictures at artofgregmartin.com. I didn't want to just pilfer his artwork without asking, so I sent him an email asking if it was okay if I used a specific image off of his website. I made sure to say what I would be using it for, that it was for a personal hobby project and not for any kind of commercial endeavor, and that I would of course give him credit for the artwork on my website. He never replied back. I guess clicking Reply, typing "NO", and then clicking Send was just beneath Greg Martin.
But eh, just as well...I'd much rather have something original on my cabinet, so I set forth making my own design for the CPO. I drew on inspiration from CPOs previously designed by motorfish and GSXRMovistar. It's a pretty simple design - a grid pattern that fades in and out on top of blue smoke/clouds - and it works perfectly for the control panel. It's complex if you actually look at just the artwork, but it's subdued enough that it doesn't distract at all.
A couple of people on the BYOAC message boards gave glowing reviews to ClassicArcadeGrafix.com, so I thought I'd give them a try for the CPO. Note that ClassicArcadeGrafix.com is not related to ArcadeGrafix.com (AKA "boardsetc"). While I've never dealt with ArcadeGrafix.com personally, I've heard nothing but scathing negative reviews regarding the poor quality of their products...they actually have quite a reputation in the arcade community for this. ClassicArcadeGrafix.com - on the other hand - seems to garner good reviews about their products. I have no idea why ClassicArcadeGrafix.com chose a name that's close to a company that most people seem to hate, but hey...
I emailed ClassicArcadeGrafix.com inquiring about them printing up a custom-made arcade CPO. Based on the dimensions of my CPO, they told me to purchase their "2 Player Mame Grid Control Panel", and then just make a note in the payment field that they payment was actually for a custom job. They also gave me the location of an FTP site that I could upload my file to.
They rep from ClassicArcadeGrafix.com asked me if my overlay was going to need to wrap around any corners or curves, or if it was going to just lay flat. As it turns out, they offered the CPO in two different materials: a thinner vinyl material that's flexible (for overlays that need to wrap around corners or curves) and a thicker material that's very rigid (for overlays that will just lay flat and will not need to wrap around corners or curves). My CPO is just a single flat piece, so that's the one I went with.
When my CPO arrived though, it had areas where some kind of marring had occurred. It looked like some kind of warping or scuffing or something had happened underneath the laminated covering. I don't know if this happened in the printing process or during shipping or whatever, but it was definitely there. After emailing them about it, ClassicArcadeGrafix.com apologized for the inconvenience and was very quick in offering to ship me a replacement CPO. This is where it gets kind of interesting (in a good way though).
The initial CPO that I ordered was the thicker/rigid material. However, I asked if my replacement CPO could be sent using the thinner/bendable material instead. I requested this because I suspected that perhaps the marring on my first CPO was a by-product of the thicker/rigid material that they used. They obliged me, and this offered me the opportunity to compare the two materials side-by-side. Neat, huh?
The thicker/rigid material is, well...thick and rigid. I measured it with my calipers, and it's 0.0275" thick. It's dense and heavy enough that you can hold it by one end and it will stand up straight on its own. The CPO is self-adhesive with a peel-off backing, and the top of it appears to be some kind of heavy laminate that covers the artwork. It's thickness and sturdiness is probably its greatest attribute or its worst flaw, depending on how you look at it. The disadvantage that I can see in using this material is that it's so thick that you can forget about cutting out holes with a knife - you'll need to use a router or something of that nature. The advantage of it however is that you could easily use this to overlay your control panel and not have to worry about using plexiglass to cover the overlay since its so heavy and sturdy.
There is one other thing to note about the thicker material: the covering appears to be a textured (versus smooth) laminate, and this textured surface kind of "blurs" everything underneath it a little bit. Just something to keep in mind.
The thinner/bendable material is more of a standard self-adhesive vinyl material. You can easily cut it with a knife, and it would be no problem to wrap it around corners. The disadvantage of this over the heavier material is - of course - that it's probably more susceptible to damage since its a thinner material. The surface does appear to have a very thin coating over the top, so I'd imagine that it would be able to take some abuse, but not nearly as much as the thicker/rigid material would.
So I guess I'm saying that I personally would go for the thicker/rigid material if I had no plans to cover the CPO with anything like plexiglass, but I'd probably go for the thinner/bendable material otherwise. The thinner stuff was just plain easier for me to work with.
Overall, I'd give ClassicArcadeGrafix.com a good rating on the quality of the product. The colors do look a little washed out to me, but I don't know if that's a byproduct of the material or the process, or if it's something with the artwork that I sent them (which does have very fine transparencies which fade in and out). I do have to say though that the lines and lettering on the CPO are all very nice and sharp with no visible dithering. Also, their service was top-notch, as they were very quick to take care of me when I had problems with the first CPO that I received, so kudos to them for that.
Click the following for a bigger pic:
If you're interested, please see the Downloads section for details on how to obtain the artwork.